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PA Car Accident Law: Punitive Damages for Falling Asleep at the Wheel

A recent Pennsylvania case may bolster a punitive damage claim in a situation where a driver falls asleep at the wheel and causes a car accident. Falling asleep at the wheel may be evidence of gross negligence and thus may substantiate a punitive damages claim. See Commonwealth v. Pedota, 2013 PA. Super. 27, where the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a conviction for homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter. In this case, the driver of a tractor-trailer fell asleep at the wheel and caused a fatal accident. The court found that the driver created a substantial risk of death on the highway by falling asleep.

Punitive damage claims are very fact intensive. In the Pedota case, the court upheld the driver’s convictions because falling asleep at the wheel creates a substantial risk of death. This is especially true for truck drivers on busy highways, traveling at high speeds. Read more about punitive damages in truck accident cases.

Whether the driver of a car who falls asleep at the wheel could be held liable for punitive damages remains to be seen. The Pedota court discussed the fact that the defendant did not show that he didn’t exhibit any classic signs of being tired or sleepy. For example, the defendant could have proved or argued that he did not seem sleepy or tired and fell asleep with no warning.

This is important because it can be applied to car accident cases. For instance, if a car driver is up for several days driving and ignores signs of being sleepy and causes a serious accident, that may rise to the level of creating a substantial risk of death. Whereas, if a car driver falls asleep, without having experienced any warning signs, a claim for punitive damages is unlikely.

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For more information, contact our Pennsylvania car and truck accident lawyers. Our attorneys serve car and truck accident victims in the following areas: Allegheny County, PA; Berks County, PA; Bucks County, PA; Chester County, PA; Delaware County, PA; Lehigh County, PA; Montgomery County, PA; Northampton County, PA: Philadelphia County, PA; Atlantic County, NJ; Burlington County, NJ; Camden County, NJ; Cumberland County, NJ; Gloucester County, NJ; Salem County, NJ; New Castle County, DE; Kent County, DE; Atlantic City, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Newark, NJ; Doylestown, PA; Media, PA; West Chester, PA; Norristown, PA; Camden, NJ; Wilmington, DE; Newark, DE; Georgetown, DE; and New Castle, DE. Our lawyers can obtain special admission in other states on a case by case basis.

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